The Little Things You Do Together

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”It’s the little things you do together … that make perfect relationships/

The hobbies you pursue together, savings you accrue together, looks you misconstrue together/

That make marriage a joy.”

The above lines from Stephen Sondheim’s musical Company popped into my head as I was reading Patti O’Shea’s Edge of Dawn.  I found this book spectacularifically generic in almost every way, except in its depiction of the couple’s pastimes.  Unlike many romances in which couples seem to share everything but parents, Ms. O’Shea’s characters had mutually exclusive – exclusive, mind you – hobbies.  He tinkers with cars.  She loves art.  Both hobbies bore the hell out of the other, and the other knows it.  But does it affect their relationship?  Not a whit.

It got me thinking about these little things in relationships and marriage, the tiny compromises that so often an author will tell us their bond can survive but rarely show.  I thought about couples I enjoy reading about when I want a solid sense of longevity rather than red roses and champagne.  I thought about authors who show realistic, timely progressions rather than whirlwind dances, and I thought about practicalities many authors never mention (uh, long hair floating around in a bathtub? Ew).  And I thought, in the end, I’d open up the floor to you, and include the entire clip of  The Little Things You Do Together as a bonus.  (Sondheim is admittedly more cynical than I’d ever like to read in a romance, but no one can say the man doesn’t have a way with words.)

Do you have go-to authors or situations when you want a dose of reality?  (For that matter, do you want a dose of reality in romance novels?)  What are some of the things you’ve seen, or look for (or don’t)?  And even if we did see more of these little things, is that undesirable in a romance novel; would reality equate banality?

- Jean AAR

22 thoughts on “The Little Things You Do Together

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  7. Pingback: Sondheim « Tracy Grant – Novelist

  8. I may have to try the Spencer-Fleming series sometime. I like mysteries with religious figures as the protagonist and have ever since I read my first G.K. Chesterton Father Brown short story. There was a wonderful series by Veronica Black featuring Sister Joan as the detective. They all began with “A Vow of….” The last one was published in 2004.

  9. I was lucky to be in New York the season it opened. I need to dig my CD out. I’m listening to “A Little Night Music” now, as I write about a masked ball in Vienna.

  10. Tracy: “Being Alive” definitely sends chills, when it’s sung right. And I’m utterly envious that you could saw Passion – I just listened to the CD from top to bottom and the lush, semi-operatic score just envelops you in sensuality. Sigh.

    Spencer-Fleming’s series: I don’t think I’m as steadfast as you, Sandy, regarding religion, and I’m sufficiently intrigued by the descriptions of Clare Ferguson that I think I’ll give the series a go. When I find the first book.

  11. Katie, can’t touch the church thing. Total turn off. My degree of interest in books with a priest heroine is below zero. I know many enjoy the books, but I know they are totally not for me.

  12. Sandy & Jean – I stay away from books with religious themes, but I tried the Spencer-Fleming books anyway. I loved them; partly because even though one of the main characters is a priest/chopper pilot, the books did not come off as preachy. Plus, Clare is well-balanced by Russ, who is most definitely a non-believer. Clare has her beliefs, but she doesn’t force them on anyone else; likewise, although Russ doesn’t share these beliefs, he is respectful of them. I think it also helps that Clare is a very liberal priest; in one of the books she performs a commitment ceremony for a gay couple, even though she will get in trouble with the church for it.

  13. I adore Stephen Sondheim. Both his lyrics and his music capture such wonderful truths about human relationships. “Being Alive” was running through my head when I wrote the last scene in “Beneath a Silent Moon” (though it isn’t about a specific couple, I think “Being Alive” is a wonderful ode to the power of romantic relationships).

    I saw “Passion” on Broadway when I went to an RWA conference in New York years ago. I took my friend and fellow writer Penny Williamson. I was a little nervous about what she’d think of it because it’s so *not* a typical Broadway musical (imo, a lot of Sondheim borders on opera for musical complexity). We both loved it.

  14. Jean, there are Christian elements in the Julia Spencer-Flemming series, I believe. It’s why I haven’t read them.

    I’m a big Sondheim fan as well. Sweeney Todd is a masterpiece of all masterpieces.

  15. I’ve heard such good things about Julia Spencer-Fleming’s series it looks like I’ll have to go on a major glom when I can.

    Re: Sondheim – This was the first in a series I’m doing about Sondheim and romance. Stay tuned.

    Desperate Housewives fans: If you didn’t already know, the title to each episode is a Sondheim song.

    And in case it hasn’t been made crystal clear, words cannot express how much I love. Love love love. LOVE love love Stephen Sondheim’s music.

  16. My new standard for contemporary romance is the Julia Spencer-Fleming series of mysteries featuring the Reverend Clare Fergusson and police chief Russ Van Alstyne. They seem to have precisely the right mix of things in common (both former Army; when they meet for the first time Clare says to him, “We’ll have to compare postings”) and differences, the biggest of which is the fact that she’s an Episcopal priest and he’s a non-believer. I don’t expect him to convert, although he’s appropriately respectful of her beliefs. All very mature and open-minded.

    That’s not to say these two people don’t have conflicts, mostly from their different temperaments. And they can fight over what’s the right thing to do. But what I love about their relationship is that they actually know each other! Surely that’s more important than shared hobbies.

    Changing the subject slightly — have you heard/seen Passion by Sondheim? I saw it in previews and also after it opened (he muted, IMO, the raw power of Fosca’s romantic attachment in the process). There’s a song Fosca sings about why she reads, and I was stunned by how *right* Sondheim got the sentiment of someone reading to transport herself out of her own pain. Apart from the fact that it’s hardly hummable, it could be the anthem for romance novel readers everywhere.

  17. Yes I do (want a dose of reality) and my go-to author is Suzanne Brockmann. I think she does it just right – enough, but not so much that the book feels too mundane. (Though she overshot for a lot of people with Embraced By Love.) I like her balding hero and her short hero and her hero who likes being on the bottom. ;-) I like her condom mentions. I like her flawed, mismatched pairs who find love anyway.

    I actually found my limit just yesterday – was skimming a book and the heroine’s son had type I diabetes. I realized that I just did NOT want to read a whole lot of stuff about insulin and shots and carbohydrate counting in my romance. Perhaps that’s because I’m diabetic myself.

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